After all the talking and the all the hype Ireland finally play their first game of Euro 2016 this evening against Sweden in Paris (KO 5pm Irish time.)
So what can we expect from our opponents? Who are their danger men, their weak links, and just how good are this Swedish side?
The obvious place to start when discussing this team is Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The talismanic genius carries his nations hopes into the finals and if they are to have any success in getting out of the group the 34 year old attacker has to be at his very best.
Of all the sides in France at Euro 2016 none are more reliant on one player than the Swedes. The Zlatan (as he likes to call himself) scored eleven goals in the qualifiers; including three in their play-off win over Denmark. The fact his tally was eight more than their second highest scorer and underlines his importance.
In those qualifiers Sweden looked very poor against the high ranking teams in their group claiming just two points from 12 against group winners Austria and runners-up Russia.
At the back they looked very vulnerable and the fact they only kept clean sheets against Liechtenstein and Moldova will given Ireland the hope there are goals available.
How Sweden will probably line up:
Andreas Isaksson (34): Currently plying his trade in Turkey with Kasımpaşa the 6 foot 7 inch vastly experienced former Man City keeper has been his countries number one since Euro 2004 amassing 130 caps. Usually steady and reliable, he commands his area well providing confidence to the players in front of him.
Michael Lustig (29): Celtic’s right back won’t need any introduction to most Ireland fans. He likes to get forward and his rampaging might leave gaps at the back for Ireland to exploit.
Victor Lindelof (21): Very highly rated player currently with Benfica where he mainly plays as a defensive midfielder. A member of the Sweden team that won the 2015 U21 European Championships (where he was named in the Team of The Tournament) he didn’t feature in any of the Euro 2016 qualifiers having only earned his first senior call up in the pre tournament friendlies. Probably likely to start at centre back.
Andreas Granqvist (31): Slow, cumbersome centre back who Shane Long will relish playing against. A member of Henrik Larsson’s side at Helsingborg he is definitely a potential weak link.
Martin Olsson (28): A team mate of Wes Hoolahan and Robbie Brady at Norwich, he is Sweden’s first choice left back. For a defender he’s not very fond of tackling but he is a good crosser of the ball who likes to contribute to his teams attacks.
Seb Larrsson (31): The Sunderland man will most likely start on the right side of midfield and will provide plenty of running and hard work. Martin O Neill will know all about his qualities having managed him briefly at the Black Cats. Has a good shot on him and will try his luck from distance any chance he gets.
Kim Kallstrom (33): Talented playmaker who likes to pull the strings in the centre of the park but his best days are behind him. Has been playing in the Swiss League for the last year with Grasshoppers Zurich following a disastrous loan spell at Arsenal two years ago. On his day can provide quality and will need to be watched.
Oscar Hiljemark (23): Centre midfielder who was also a member of the victorious Euro 15 Under 21 side, the highly Palermo player is a great reader of the game but not a very strong tackler. He is a fierce competitor with a great attitude and he could cause Ireland problems in midfield.
Emil Forsberg (24): Will start on the left side of midfield and is a potential danger man for the Swedes. He is fast, technically very good and has the ability to dribble past players and could cause us a lot of problems down the left flank. Currently playing in Germany with RB Leipzig he is highly coveted by a few English and Spanish clubs and could be looking to put himself in the shop window. If he plays well Ireland could struggle.
Marcus Berg (29) The Panathinaikos forward was Sweden’s second top scorer in the qualifiers but only bagged a measly two goals. Good in the air, he also has a nice first touch and can help bring his more talented team mates on to the ball.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (34) As already discussed will be the main Ireland will have to worry about most. A sublime player capable of scoring from anywhere he rarely lets his country down. Will be interesting to see how Martin O Neill decides to deal with him. He must be denied space at all costs.